A law passed by the Knesset in March that forbids entry to foreigners who publicly support the BDS movement — boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and its settlements —is self-defeating on several fronts.
The legislation was heralded by supporters of BDS who say that it helps their cause, giving more attention to the issue and chipping away at Israel’s image of being an open democracy. An editorial in The New York Times on April 28 critically cited the new law as well as reports of Prime Minister Netanyahu canceling a meeting with Germany’s foreign minister after learning he met with representatives of Breaking the Silence, which promotes testimonies from former IDF soldiers about improper behavior toward Palestinians. The Times asserted that when Israel treats its critics “as enemies” it adds to the perception that Jerusalem is becoming increasingly rigid, leading to a “‘with us or against us’ posture.”
That sentiment is shared among a significant part of the Jewish community as well. As staff writer Stewart Ain reports this week, some young Jews scheduled to participate in Birthright Israel trips are worried they will be barred entry because of their opposition to Israel’s settlements policy. About 600 young people who have either been on Birthright or are planning to go wrote to ask Birthright officials if they will be able to enter the country. They were assured that Birthright doesn’t ask applicants their political views and that they will be welcome to visit, but the students still don’t know whether they will be stopped at Ben-Gurion Airport and how Birthright would handle the situation if they are. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who wrote Netanyahu seeking clarification about the impact of the new law regarding Birthright participants, said he would welcome a reply that the law would not be enforced. “But if it is not going to be enforced, there should not be such a law,” the rabbi said.
Other critics point out that the interior minister already has the ability to prevent anti-Israel groups from entering the country. “It does nothing productive and will make us look bad,” asserted Michal Rozin of the Meretz Party.
The law already has tarnished Israel’s image, and now it may deter young Jews from seeing firsthand the vibrant and open society that is Israel today.